It is singular that in this declaration of the causes which impelled the people of South Carolina to attempt a withdrawal from the Union, there is not an intimation that the Federal Government, in any of its departments, had encroached upon the rights of the state. It is not charged that Congress, or the Executive, or the Supreme Court, had been guilty of usurpation, or that any one of them had failed to perform the duties imposed by the Constitution. The whole ground of separation is based on the action of certain states in nullifying an act of Congress. This was, to say the least, a strange predicament in which the State of South Carolina placed herself, namely, that of a resort to secession as a remedy against her own favorite policy of nullification.
As a further ground of justification, the declaration alleges the facts that the Republican party had elected Abraham Lincoln to the Presidency; that his party was pledged to the doctrine of the non-extension of slavery; and that Mr. Lincoln himself had declared that the "Government cannot endure permanently, half free, half slave." But the declaration of a party which owed its success entirely to divisions in the ranks of its opponents were not likely to be engrafted on the statute-books during a single Presidential term; while to withdraw from the Union, even peaceably, would involve the inevitable consequence of losing the constitutional guaranty for the return of fugitive slaves. Nothing could be more remote from probability than the assumption that the Northern states would concede to a Southern confederacy the right to reclaim runaway slaves. Their reclamation would not have been tolerated under such a state of things. Neither could Southern men have reasonably calculated upon a division of the territories between a Northern and Southern confederacy. The condition of Kansas and Nebraska as free communities was then already decided. The remaining territories, if that held by the Indians be excepted, were in no respect adapted to the introduction of slavery. They were mostly too far north, sterile, or mountainous. Those best adapted to agriculture were already under the control of Northern men. It should have been remembered by Southern men, that Great Britain and other European powers, though anxious to see the Union broken up, were as unfriendly to slavery as the Northern abolitionists, and far more so than the great mass of Northern men. In the event of successful secession, and the formation of a Southern confederacy, those trans-Atlantic powers would feel at liberty to take a far higher tone in regard to slavery than they had ever ventured upon while the institution enjoyed the protecion of the American flag. Great Britain, France, Germany, Austria, and Italy might unite in treating inter-state commerce by sea in slaves as piracy. The Northern people would naturally have sympathized with and acquiesced in this European policy; and the Southern Confederacy would thus have found that political independence of the North had made their institution more vulnerable than ever to the intolerant anti-slavery sentiment of the civilized world. The prolonged existence of slavery under such circumstances would have been impossible.
Pending the debate in the South Carolina Convention upon the declaration of causes for secession, Mr. Gregg, a leading member, objected that no reference was made in it to the tariff, and internal improvements policy. But to this Mr. Keitt, who had for years been a prominent member of the United States House of Representatives, pertinently replied: "Your late Senators, and every one of your members of the House of Representatives voted for the present tariff. If the gentleman had been there he would have voted for it. The tariff is not the question which has brought us up to our present attitude. I am willing in this issue to rest disunion upon the question of slavery." Mr. Keitt, in the same connection, expressed his doubts about the consitutionality of the fugitive-slave act. This was to admit that the Northern states in adopting their personal liberty bills, had only nullified an unconstitutional act of Congress. Mr. Rhett reiterated the same doubt of the constitutionality of the fugitive-slave act. Mr. Meminger, the author of the declaration, stated that he concurred in that doubt. He therefore laid the grievance of South Carolina upon the failure of the individual Northern states to fulfill their constitutional obligations. It was not the Federal Government, he said, which had failed to perform its duty in this regard. He intimated his disapprobation of the attempt of Congress to do what was solely incumbent on the states.
Three Decades of Federal Legislation 1855 to 1885 by Samuel S. Cox, pages 109-110
M. M. Stoddart & Company, Washington, D. C., 1885